What is an APU?

May 3rd, 2012 | By | Category: Technology

Well if you haven’t figured it out by now, May is the Month of the APU, also known as the accelerated processing unit.  AMD’s APUs to be more exact and if you want to get even more precise than that we are talking about the Piledriver core also known as the Trinity chip.  AMD’s Trinity or Piledriver cores are actually the second generation of AMD APUs to be released.  The first generation were titled Llano and Bulldozer.  Llano representing the low-power uber efficient chips that powered the E and A series computers.  Much like the E-350 that I’m writing this article from.  While the Bulldozer cores powered the A series machines like the A6 and the A8 which are a little thirstier when it comes to power consumption but provide a lot more CPU power than the E series.

So what sets these apart from convention cpus?  Well the big distinction here is that these chips are designed from the ground up, they are not an iteration on a previous design.  Everything was thrown away and started from scratch and done so with amazing ingenuity.  The most amazing thing that sets an AMD APU apart from traditional chips AMD(who bought ATI some years back if you remember) has combined the GPU and the CPU into one chip, or more precisely they have integrated a GPU into a CPU as from what I understand they are more stacked onto each other than just all melted into one.  The advantages of such a marriage are profound, especially when you consider that both of these components are now seamlessly sharing both resources on the board and power.  The power savings is where these bad boys really shine and we are seeing upwards of 50% power consumption drops with this next generation of AMD’s APU’s over a traditional setup and the efficiency is just going up.  Because of this device makers are able to start packing HUGE graphical power into devices that would have otherwise not have had the battery or space for it(remember with the GPU and CPU in one now they take up less space on the motherboard than before as well) or the ability to handle the heat generated by a traditional CPU and GPU setup.. It’s even better when you consider that the new Piledriver cores are basically equipped with 2 ATI GPU’s running in what could be called a quasi-crossfire setup.  So you have a quad-core chip with 2 graphics cards and you can easily fit it in a tablet and see the same battery life as before.   To put that into perspective that is more powerful than a high end desktop PC was say 3-4 years ago and it could hypothetically fit in a cellphone.

The other great thing here is that because AMD is the underdog in the industry they are the ones not only pushing this technology hard as it could represent a competitive advantage but they are also offering it for a song and a dance..  The estimated pricing on the new Piledriver or Trinity ultrathins, ultrabooks or laptops is around the $500 mark.  At that price it doesn’t take much to jump in on the APU train and see what all of the fuss is about.  So stop asking yourself: “What is an APU” and start seeing what the benefits of them are.  If it’s about time for a machine upgrade for you then now is a great time to do it as we haven’t seen this level of innovation since the last major shift in metal-gate transistors.

Now you know the benefits of an APU, you may be thinking about purchasing one of these fancy new processors. Upgrading to a new processor is never inexpensive, however. Is an APU worth your money?

The answer is yes, but on the other hand, it doesn’t matter if you upgrade now or later. You are, eventually, going to end up owning an APU no matter what you do. All of Intel’s processors from here on, with the exception of the Atom processor, will be APUs. AMD’s entire line of processors will be updated to APUs by the end of this year. And Nvidia, which recently announced intentions to create a line of ARM processors for desktops, will of course be creating an APU.

In fact, you may want to wait, if only because this technology is relatively new. Both Intel and AMD are hard at work on new products that further leverage the advantages of this design, and AMD’s desktop APU is unlikely to become available before the summer.

 

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